Unseasonal weather has produced a glut of this underrated brassica. Luckily, it's the perfect thing for summer suppers.
As you bask in the sunshine this lunchtime, please spare a thought for those who aren't enjoying the heatwave. The frail and elderly, the very young, all those dogs panting their way around the park - and the many, many heads of broccoli, drooping sadly in the supermarket as you eagerly reach past them for a cooling cucumber.
An unusually chilly spring (remember that?) produced a glut of the brassica, which means British growers are harvesting three times as much as normal, but in the heat, no one is buying. One Kent farmer expects to lose £20,000 on his crop. "Most people view broccoli as something you have in the winter with warming meals like a roast dinner," he told the Mail, despondently.
Frankly, I would have expected more from Guardian readers. With Yotam Ottolenghi promoting char-grilled sprouting broccoli with sweet tahini, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall giving a recipe for a purple sprouting broccoli pasta in this very paper, there is no excuse for such ignorance.
Indeed, for all its wintry reputation, broccoli is rather exotic; it hails from Italy, where the name is a diminutive of "shoots", so has probably been bred to go better with Hugh's garlic and anchovies than our own roast beef and Yorkshires.
Broccoli also has a colourful history: Jane Grigson, writing in 1978, expects readers to be most familiar with "the purple flowering kind", but adds that "Italians enjoy the white as well, and in recent years have added an excellent green-flowering variety that comes in larger clumps ... in shape closer to a small cauliflower". Originally developed in Calabria, in Italy's wild south, this variety is now far more common than its smaller, sproutier rivals - but both have their merits.
Our ancestors better appreciated the virtues of broccoli, with the 18th-century seed merchant Stephen Switzer claiming that, next to asparagus, it makes the best warm salads - "at least much better than any other kind of sprouts that grow". He's right: I'd take a bunch of purple sprouting broccoli over a pungent tray of beansprouts any day.
Indeed, sprouting broccoli makes an excellent substitute for asparagus now our fleeting season is over for another year. Trim the woody bases from the stalks, and steam them as you would asparagus, until just tender to the tooth, then serve with warm, rich hollandaise (the slight bitterness also works particularly well with sauce maltaise), an intensely savoury Italian bagna cauda or a garlicky Provencale aioli. Split into tiny trees, the ordinary green sort is a stalwart of the crudité selection - just the thing to dip into some tapenade or hummus.
In fact, the more flavour you throw at it the better: all varieties work brilliantly with ingredients such as chilli, soy sauce and goat's cheese, but they also look pretty added to seasonal salads of broad beans, peas and courgettes, and work wonderfully in such picnic favourites as frittatas and quiches. Why, you can even chargrill it on the barbecue. So, please, do your bit for British broccoli this summer.
Image: Sprouting broccoli makes an excellent substitute for asparagus. Photograph: Jonathan Gayman/Getty Images/Flickr RF